Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, who traveled to Moscow in October for talks with both government leaders and Orthodox prelates, said that there are "objective difficulties" between Rome and Moscow, which "require deeper study." Although he described his meetings with Orthodox leaders as "cordial and productive," he did not foresee rapid progress in ecumenical ties.
Questioned about the prospects for a papal visit to Russia, Archbishop Lajolo said that "the Catholics of Russia are awaiting the Pope," and a visit by the Pontiff would be "a great encouragement for them." However, he continued, a papal voyage "could only occur in an ecumenical context"-- that is, with the approval of the Moscow patriarchate. Pressed on whether that approval could be achieved, the archbishop replied: "Let us pray," adding that the Holy Spirit can overcome any resistance.
Archbishop Lajolo told the Vatican Radio audience that he was convinced the Russian Orthodox leadership wants "reciprocal relations that are ever more fraternal, open, and confident." But to reach that stage, he said, the existing tensions must first be resolved.
The archbishop said that the mixed Catholic-Orthodox commission, set up after a February 2004 visit to Moscow by Cardinal Walter Kasper, should meet to discuss the sources of tension. If the group is persistent and meets regularly, he said, "it cannot fail to bear fruit."
Regarding relations with the government of Russia, the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States said that it is important to establish full diplomatic ties. The Holy See and the Russian Federation now have a "special" relationship, exchanging emissaries whose status falls short of the rank of ambassador. Although current ties are "fluid and profitable," Archbishop Lajolo conceded that the special diplomatic missions cause "a certain malaise, from the perspective of protocol." The absence of ambassadors, he said, seems to indicate "reservations about these relations-- reservations which do not exist." The logic of the situation points to the need for regular diplomatic ties, he said, and progress is being made in that direction.
In his lengthy radio interview, the Italian archbishop said that the small Catholic community in Russia-- numbering just 600,000 faithful, in a country of 144 million-- is very active and fervent, but suffers from the shortage of priests. He observed that Catholics in Russia are also troubled by tensions with the Orthodox churches. Archbishop Lajolo suggested that the large Catholic communities of other countries should make the effort to assure Russian Catholics of their prayerful support.